Fermented foods most commonly appear in the dairy aisle in Europe, but with rising demand for plant-based foods, other areas may be ripe for long term growth.
Fermentation has been used in foods and drinks for millennia, but recently it has piqued the interest of western consumers in a major way. For food companies, fermentation tends to be time consuming, which is the antithesis of most modern food manufacturing goals. Today, companies that want a long shelf life for their foods and drinks can turn to a plethora of preservation methods, from canning and freezing to a range of processing technologies. But fermentation carries advantages beyond shelf life; it also adds flavour and texture, and with growing interest in the gut microbiome, consumers are more interested than ever in how healthy bacteria from fermented foods could improve their overall health.
The trend now looks set to be more than a short-term bubble, as it chimes with several major consumer demands. As well as the desire for gut-friendly bacteria, fermentation is a natural process, potentially addressing concerns about synthetic preservatives, flavourings and other additives.
Some major food and beverage companies have jumped on board too, including PepsiCo with its 2016 acquisition of kombucha and probiotic drinks company KeVita, and DuPont’s venture for prebiotic and probiotic R&D launched in late 2017. The latter has released a range of cultures for plant-based fermented products under its Danisco brand, as the company is betting on further growth in alternatives to yoghurt and fermented milk drinks.
Meanwhile, other fermented foods have started to enter the mainstream, such as fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi, fermented soy products like Japanese natto and Indonesian tempeh, and the fermented tea kombucha. Other products, like fermented juices, protein and cereal products still have some way to go before they reach ordinary supermarket shelves, but the range of fermented foods and drinks is steadily expanding in specialist channels.
According to a recent report from BIS Research, the global market for fermented foods has entered its main commercialisation phase, and is set for robust growth over the coming five years, particularly in Europe, with Germany and the UK leading the way in new market opportunities.
If manufacturers can find interesting ways to commercialise fermented ingredients, consumer interest is strong. Global Google searches for kimchi, for example, hit their highest ever level in January 2019, while searches for kombucha spiked in late May.